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Governments Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea Level: South Western Connecticut


The South Western Region of Connecticut occupies the 225 square-mile panhandle at the western tip of the state and is part of the New York City metropolitan area. The region is the most urbanized in all of Connecticut, and serves as a conduit between New York City and the rest of New England. As a result, the South Western Region's development patterns, transportation system, and economy have significant bearing on surrounding regions as well as the eight cities and towns that constitute the region served by the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

The South Western Region is much more densely populated than Connecticut as a whole. The 2000 Census measured 1,682 persons per square mile in the South Western Region, compared to 703 per square mile for the state as a whole. Most of this density occurs in the coastal towns. Development is concentrated along the I-95 corridor, which runs along the coast of Long Island Sound. As a result of this dense population, there is relatively little open space in the coastal South Western Region compared to the rest of coastal Connecticut. Greenwich and Norwalk have designated some large conservation areas. Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, covering approximately 250 acres, is the only coastal state park. Many of the small islands off the region's coast, whether publicly or privately owned, are designated as conservation areas in the state Conservation and Development Plan, limiting their use to low-density residential and recreational purposes. Because of the proximity of I-95 to the Long Island Sound coastline, it is likely that development will continue along the coast. For example, Stamford's plan of development allows for major commercial development south of 95 along the waterfront.

Likelihood of Shore Protection

Virtually the entire coast in this area is likely or certain to be protected as sea level rises given current policies and approaches. The prospects for shore protection are so great that we focused largely on the relatively few and small parcels where protection is "only" likely rather than certain. The general approach of the study originally identified several areas of undeveloped or intermediate lands that the local planners indicated are likely or certain to be protected. The key corrections suggested by the planning agency were as follows:

1. Change public recreation areas in Greenwich from light green to red (protection likely). The planners commented that cities in the region are committed to protecting public recreation areas. Many of these parks, such as Greenwich Point Park, already are significantly armored. The planners recommended we display all public active recreation areas located along the shorefront in the South Western Region as protection likely to reflect the desire of communities to protect these public spaces.:
Greenwich Point Park: The most popular beach in Greenwich, the city has spent substantial funds to maintain access to this area. For instance, the city has rebuilt the land bridge to Greenwich Point after hurricanes. Before being owned by the city, Greenwich Point was an estate on which seawalls were constructed.
Island Beach (also known as Little Captain Island): The second most popular beach in Greenwich, Island Beach is located two miles offshore of the Bellhaven area. The staff indicates that this 4-acre island has a seawall around its entire circumference. Ferries serve Island Beach throughout the summer.
Byram Park (Greenwich)
Grass Island (Greenwich)
Southfield Park (Stamford)
Kosciuszko Park (Stamford)
Cummings Park (Stamford)
Cove Island Park (Stamford)
Czecsik Park (Stamford)
West Beach (Stamford)
Pear Tree Point Beach (Darien)
Bayley Beach (Norwalk)
Village Creek Open Space (Norwalk)
Veterans Memorial Park (Norwalk)
Westport Longshore Club Park (Norwalk)
Compo Beach and Yacht Club (Norwalk)

2. Change private clubs in Greenwich from blue to red (protection likely). The planners commented that members of private beach, yacht, and golf clubs will probably likely seek to protect these properties from inundation. Properties affected by this map change include the following see #2 on Figure SHR-2):
Hawthorne Beach (Greenwich)
Belle Haven Yacht Club (Greenwich)
Milbrook Country Club (Greenwich)
Riverside Yacht Club (Greenwich)
Yacht Haven Marina (Stamford)
Stamford Yacht Club (Stamford)
Woodway Beach Club (Stamford)
Soundview Association Beach (Stamford)
Weed Beach (Darien)
Tokeneke Beach Club (Norwalk)
Wee Burn Beach (Norwalk)
Roton Point Club (Norwalk)
Shore and Country Club (Norwalk)
Cove Marina (Norwalk)
Ascension Beach (Norwalk)
Shorehaven Country Club (Norwalk)
Cedar Point Yacht Club (Westport)
Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club (Westport)

3. Change residential areas in the town of Darien to brown (protection almost certain). The planners remarked that low density residential areas throughout the South Western Region, with the exception of the most vulnerable areas as identified in the FEMA Disaster Mitigation Study, are almost certain to be protected. Based on this comment, the staff recommended we change the following residential areas from blue to brown see #3 on Figure SHR-2):
Noroton Neck and Long Neck, as well as inland areas in Darien
South Norwalk near Wilson Point
East Norwalk near Sasqua Hill
East Westport in the Green Farms area

4. Change areas inland of Route 1 or Interstate 95 to protection almost certain. Planners commented that high property values and the importance of this transportation infrastructure would make protection of these areas almost certain (see #5 on Figure SHR-2).

Areas that are Correctly Depicted.

The SWRPA staff noted that shorefront lands in the Harborview area of Norwalk and the Saugutuck Shores area in Westport are the areas in the Region most vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise. On further review, planning staff in Westport indicated that protection in these two areas is almost certain for three reasons: 1) the value of property is very high, 2) there has been a great deal of investment in the area with many new constructions and renovations, and 3) the town of Westport is in the process of designing a plan to extend the sanitary sewer to Saugutuck Shores. Therefore, these areas continue to be shown as brown (see #6 on Figure SHR-2).

Planners' General Comments

The planners emphasized that given the "astronomically" high value of real estate and the population density in the South Western Region, the majority of coastal lands are almost certain to be protected. As evidence of this high property value, the median home price in the Region in 2004 was $925,000. Although residential property and critical public facilities are areas with the highest priority for shore protection, the staff indicated that members of privately owned clubs (i.e., golf, yacht, and beach clubs) are likely to pool resources to fund shoreline protection measures. Marinas, in particular, have a dense concentration of valuable facilities that members are likely to protect.

Communities in the South Western Region place a high premium on public coastal recreation facilities. Municipal parks are important for providing public access to the shoreline in an area with otherwise limited public access. The planners confirmed that many of these shorefront parks already are heavily armored and are likely to continue to be armored in the future. Additionally, many of the public beaches in the towns of Greenwich and Stamford are regularly nourished.

Towns in the South Western Region have a limited amount of public open space dedicated to preserving tidal wetlands. Because these lands are not active recreation areas, it is unlikely that shoreline protection will be pursued.

New structural modifications to shorefront properties are relatively uncommon in the region, because the communities actively attempt to regulate this activity and encourage nonstructural options.. The planners indicated that it was reasonable to assume that shoreline protection will be permitted in Stamford in all areas located at least 1 foot above the median high tide. Some properties in the low-lying Saugatuck Shores area of Westport have been raised and others have been bought out by the city. The staff is aware of only one property in Greenwich that has been significantly fortified in recent years. Although it is currently difficult for property owners to obtain permits for armoring structures, the planners predict that permitting will become less stringent as inundation problems increase.

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Governments Plan for Development of Most Land Vulnerable to Rising Sea (PDF, 7 pp., 1.3 MB) was originally published in Environmental Research Letters , Issue 3, Volume 4 (2009).

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